Widespread Panic are approaching their 25th anniversary, and set to release their 11th album, Dirty Side Down, on May 25th. The new record includes one especially poignant track: a cover of “This Cruel Thing,” an unreleased song from friend fellow Athens musical legend Vic Chesnutt, who passed away on Christmas Day 2009. We got lead singer John Bell on the phone to chat about Chesnutt’s legacy, the difference between improvisation and “stumbling,” and the general state of the Widespread Panic union.Georgia rockers
Entertainment Weekly: After 10 albums, how do you keep finding ways to push your music forward?
John Bell: I think you just keep a few holes in the dam so stuff will keep leaking through. We’re looking for new territory just to keep it fun and interesting for us.
Do you think there’s something inherent in the “jam band” aesthetic that allows you to stumble more easily across new sounds?
Hmm. Well, I’m not too fond of the phrase “jam band.” It does tend to refer more to stumbling than actual improvisation.
Can you explain the difference between those two things in your mind? Obviously one implies more conscious thought rather than just tripping over something, but expand on that.
We hope it’s more musically soul-searching. The term “jam band” — in the beginning, there was just the notion of bands that were more willing to improvise and get off the script of a song. But hopefully, you improvise with a purpose. With some focus. And with open ears to what other people are doing on stage. It’s easy as a player to just kind of stand around until you find something. A listener applying themselves to “jam band” music might not be listening with focus, either… I’m trying not to offend anybody.
Are they not listening with focus because of all the drugs?
[laughs] Oh, no! I just think there’s a difference when you’re experimenting with a sense of musical conversation going on. The performance can rise up to much heavier level levels than it would if you were just following a script. READ FULL STORY